I have received several emails the last couple of days from readers with various
questions and concerns about tandem rigs or dropper fly rigs. I had made some
comments in a previous article to the effect that you shouldn’t use a dropper rig
purely for the sake of fishing two flies or in some cases, just for a strike indicator.
You should learn to watch your line and leader and to detect strikes when you
can not actually see the fly. That way you can control the depth and drift of the fly
in a more natural manner.
I indicated another problem fishing a nymph in that manner was that the fly was
always drifting at a constant depth. This is a problem when you fish an indicator
or any type. You can’t drop the nymph deeper in deeper areas of water nor bring
it up near the surface without failing to get a drag free drift. Getting a drag-free
drift is just as important with nymphs as it is with dry flies.
I did mention that there are places and times when the dropper rig works fine.
There are occasions on which I use dropper rigs. I will not elaborate but I have
written previous articles where I discuss using dropper rigs with hoppers and
beetles, etc., for example.
I suppose that someone who hasn’t a clue about what the trout may be feeding on
or which insects are most prevalent and available for the trout to eat in the stream
at the particular time and in the particular type of water, could tie on two flies to
provide the fish an option. That is really just admitting you don’t know what you
are doing. If you really believe this method works, tie on six or eight different types
of flies and really increase your odds. You should catch a ton of trout if this theory
It was brought up in one email up that you could use a mayfly nymph and a
caddisfly larva, for example; or a stonefly nymph and a mayfly nymph; or other
type combination; and the trout would have a choice. Well, my answer to that is
that you don’t find any stonefly nymphs drifting along with mayfly nymphs mid-
stream down the river unless you have kicked up a lot of rocks on the bottom.
That would be an odd situation in nature. The mayfly nymphs stay on the bottom
99.9 percent of the time unless they are accenting to the surface to hatch. If that
is the case, then a fly drifting at a constant depth would be an odd ball rig that
was not imitative of the insect.
In the Smokies,stoneflies which are mainly clinger nymphs stay down in between
and under the rocks and are not exposed to trout mid-depth. When it is time for
them to hatch, they crawl along the bottom to the banks where they crawl out of
the water and hatch. They are very rarely found drifting mid-stream.
Most caddisfly larvae stay hidden in the bottom substrate material or in the case
of the net spinners, drifting in the slow to moderate riffles staying in one place, not
going downstream. The case builders crawl slowly along the bottom or cling to
rocks feeding. The free-living caddisflies slowly crawl along the bottom feeding
and are almost never drifting downstream until they convert to a pupae and
hatch. When caddisflies hatch, most species (except some of the case caddis
species) do not hatch mid-stream and swim to the surface. They crawl out of the
water and up on rocks to hatch. The others all hatch in slow water. Most of these
crawl along the bottom to slow water in pockets and along the banks before
beginning their pupae stage of life. In other words, you don’t normally find
caddisfly larvae drifting mid-depths downstream.
I have used nets to catch drifting insects several nights and days in various
streams in the Smokies in various types of water to obtain samples to photograph.
There were never any caddis larvae and almost no stonefly or clinger mayfly
nymphs caught in the drift nets. A few mayfly crawler nymphs and quite a few of
the swimming nymphs were caught during behavioral drifts at night. They were
mostly immature nymphs in their early instar development.
The point is, to fish a double nymph rig using a caddis, stonefly, or clinger mayfly
nymph drifting at mid-depth (by mid-depth I mean any constant depth below the
surface and above the bottom) imitates a very unnatural thing. In fact, much of
the time when you do rig two different flies in this manner, one or the other will not
drift drag free. Remember, the drag free drift is just as important below the
surface as it is on the surface. The different sizes, buoyancy characteristic and
weights of the flies don’t permit that. Yes, I know you will catch some trout. I can
catch an opportunistically feeding trout on a dough ball fly at times.
Dropper rigs are often used by guides with clients that are learning to fish or just
starting out. That is what most guide’s clients are – beginners. They use the dry
fly on top with a nymph as a dropper fly because they don’t have watch the drift
and yell at the client when a fish attempts to take the fly. Their clients, who haven’
t a clue about how to keep track of a fly they can’t see, or knowing when they get
a take, catch a lot more fish this way than they would otherwise. The client can
see the float (top fly) sink and then jerk. That is what some fisherman are – “a jerk
waiting on a jerk”. (Joke)
In most cases, using a dropper rig for purposes of having a strike indicator is
necessary only because the angler hasn’t learned to concentrate and keep track
of his fly. They need proper instructions and experience, not a float. If the dropper
rig is being used just to have a combination of flies so the trout has two choices,
then that means most likely neither fly is being presented in the manner it should
be presented, at the right depth and much less in the right type of water. There
are exceptions to this.
If the only way an angler knows how to fish is to toss a dropper rig upstream in the
fast water runs and riffles, they can certainly expect to catch some trout,
especially when they are real active and feeding aggressively. Of course, they
are always full of excuses when they don’t catching any that way. That is when the
“fishing reports” say “slow” or “poor”. That is when many anglers say the
conditions are bad. That is when the water temperature, the water level, the
change in weather, the tourist, tube floaters or something is always to blame for
the lack of success. They always have an excuse. They learned that well from
some of the guides.
There is no substitute for knowing the various insects the trout live on, their
behavior, where they live, exactly how, where and when they hatch. Knowing what
is the most available insect that is most likely to be eaten by trout; exactly where
they are and how the trout eat them at the particular time and place your are
fishing is a big key to consistent success. Anglers should know how and when
they should be imitating the various sources of food the trout eat. Not just whether
they should tie on a Parachute Adams or a Hare’s ear nymph, or maybe get real
fancy, and tie on both. Dropper rigs are used often when there is no reason or
justified purpose in doing so. It is just a substitute for not knowing what is going on
and in some cases purely a half - but gimmick. In many cases its use points out
those anglers that are perfectly satisfied with being a mediocre angler.
Please understand that I am not really being critical of anyone for using dropper
rigs. If so, then I am being critical of myself just as well. In fact, I have stated that I
use them on occasions for specific reasons. I have even written a couple of
articles about using them on this site. I am just making some points about them
that should make sense to you. When you consider using a dropper rig, ask
yourself exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish. It may be a wise thing to
use a dropper rig and it may not be.
You can go about your trout fishing in two basic ways. You can just tie on various
generic flies and change them until you find what works, using single or multiple
rigs; or you can try to determine what the trout are most likely eating and try to
imitate those particular foods. You will find that both methods will produce fishing
for the wild trout in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you keep your flies in the fast moving water, the opportunistically feeding trout
will usually eat them. They don’t have the opportunity to closely examine them
and are very easy to catch under favorable conditions. You can use your “purple
people eater” and if that don’t work, try your “flashy bead head cancer stricken
nymph”. In short time, the trout will get the right glimpse of the fly and get hooked.
When the trout are not actively feeding in the fast water, such as during times
when the trout are focusing on one prevalent insect, when the water is quite
warm; quite cold; too low or too high,(meaning most of the time), you can use the
long list of excuses I listed above. You can rely on pure luck or you can enjoy the
satisfaction of knowing you caught trout as a result of your awareness of what the
trout were feeding on and your ability and skills that were required to successfully
imitate that behavior. If you go about it the later way, you will learn to ignore such
labels as the fishing as “great”, “good”, and “poor”. You will never tie on a
dropper rig strictly for the purpose of giving the trout a choice.
There are some places they work great all the time. The Tuchasegee River, for
example. It is stocked heavily with trout in the fall and early winter months. A
double, triple or quadruple rig will always work well with trout that are used to
eating fish pellets. They also work well on the newly stocked trout in the Holston
River tailwater and anywhere else the trout are all hatchery, stocked fish. You
may even get multiple hookups.
I fished with a very wealthy man for marlin for a few years in several locations
throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. One day during a billfish tournament in the
Cayman Islands, he had one of his mates drill holes through his hard body plastic
marlin lures, or Kona Lures. I thought he was trying to create bubbles. He
proceeded to roll up and place hundred dollar bills through the holes in the lure’s
body. Of course, I asked why. Mr. O’Connell stated that if the marlin didn’t hit
those lures, they would not hit anything. He was really just bored and maybe a
little upset that we had not had any fish in the lures all day. I didn’t really blame
him. He was in the Calcutta, at the tune of $40,000.00 and he made another
$80,000.00 bet on the side the night before we departed. Now don’t think that was
a big deal for him. He makes several times that amount each day of his life
insuring poor people like me against all types of mishaps. Oh well, dropper rigs
made me think of that even though it doesn’t exactly relate but in a wired sort of
way, it actually does. I had forgotten about it until just now.
Copyright 2008 James Marsh